PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) — Results of a new survey of Oregon health care providers strongly suggest that immunizations in the state may have dropped dramatically due to the COVID-19 crisis, officials said.
Oregon Health Authority released the survey results this week. They show that changes to immunization practices many clinics put in place in response to the pandemic, as well as concerns among parents of young children, may have caused a “sharp reduction” in routine immunization of children and adults over the last two months.
The survey results are similar to those the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. CDC researchers observed a “notable decrease in orders” for non-influenza childhood vaccines and measles vaccines since the March 13 declaration of a national emergency due to COVID-19.
The results of the OHA survey can be found on the OHA immunization website at https://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/PREVENTIONWELLNESS/VACCINESIMMUNIZATION/Documents/Imm-COVIDsurvey.pdf.
The vaccines are funded by the federal Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, which provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay. CDC buys vaccines at a discount and distributes them to grantees including OHA and some local health departments, which in turn distribute them at no charge to private physicians’ offices and public health clinics registered as VFC providers.
Officials with the Oregon Immunization Program, based at OHA, surveyed clinics that participate in VFC on April 18 and 29 after learning of concerns about clinic experience and operation changes due to the pandemic. The survey results found that among clinics that routinely provide immunizations to infants and children:
- 95% reported changing their immunization practices.
- 65% reduced or limited well-child visits, with 5% cancelling all well-child visits.
- 50% reported cancelling or rescheduling immunizations that were due for older children and adolescents.
- 81% reported difficulty maintaining staffing.
In addition, 58% of VFC clinics indicated they had a plan for contacting families of children with missed immunizations and catching them up, while 36% reported that they were still thinking about it. In open-ended responses, clinics frequently expressed a need for assistance in getting children to return for missed immunizations.
The survey was initiated after OHA officials noticed rapid declines in Oregon VFC vaccine orders; initial drops in weekly immunizations captured by Oregon’s ALERT IIS vaccination database; and reports from health care providers that parents stopped bringing their children in to clinics during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that providers were having difficulty maintaining clinic operations due to financial and staffing issues.
“There’s certainly been a lot of fear about COVID-19, and these survey results show us that this fear dramatically affected our ability to get children vaccinated,” said Paul Cieslak, M.D., medical director for immunizations and communicable diseases at OHA. “It tells us we have a lot of work to do to get Oregon children back on schedule for getting protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.”
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